Colorado environmentalists challenge planned uranium mill
An environmental group has filed a lawsuit challenging Colorado's greenlighting of the first new uranium mill in the United States in 25 years.
Last month, Colorado's Department of Public Health and Environment approved a permit for the Pinon Ridge Uranium Mill, which would be located in the high desert in the remote southwestern part of the state.
The proposed mill is a sign of the revitalization of the nuclear fuels industry. Currently, the only operating uranium mill in the country is located in southeastern Utah. The Canadian company that wants to open the new mill, Energy Fuels Inc., says the processed uranium mainly would be shipped to fast-growing Asian countries.
State regulators said they followed all appropriate procedures when they approved the permit, but the lawsuit, filed Feb. 4 in state court by the Telluride-based Sheep Mountain Alliance, alleges that is not the case. It claims the state did not hold adequate public hearings and that the licensing violates a state law prohibiting uranium mills near areas that already have high levels of heavy metals in their water.
The suit also contends that the state did not require the mill's owner to set aside enough money for mitigation, noting that prior groundwater contamination in Colorado mills has cost up to $500 million to clean up. Energy Fuels is only required to set aside $11 million, according to the complaint.
“If state regulators ignore basic federal and state law to permit this mill, how can we ever trust them to monitor the mill once it’s in production?” asked Linda Miller, one of Sheep Mountain's board members.
State regulators had no comment on the lawsuit. The mill is opposed by environmentalists in Telluride and other mountain towns, but supported by many locals in the remote Paradox Valley as a possible source of good employment.
-- Nicholas Riccardi
Photo: The area in Colorado's Paradox Valley where the new mill would be constructed. Credit: Whit Richardson for Sheep Mountain Alliance